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Grocery Shopping with a Madman

February 29, 2012

As I try to pull myself out of the winter doldrums I took some friendly advice from Ed. Well, at least I took part of his advice.

Yesterday he left this helpful comment:

If you have the winter doldrums, why not take a ride to the Asian Supermarket and pick up some Asian vegis and make a nice stir fry. They usually have duck legs there which cook up very nicely. You could also pick up a piece of frozen Unagi (fresh water barbecued eel) and make a cucumber salad with seasoned rice vinegar. Winter, even without snow, is a tough time to find variety but you can get some interesting things. Oh, and don’t forget the beech mushrooms.

One of these days I’m just going to snap. There are too many rules and restrictions governing the behavior in my head. I’ll detail in just a moment why I couldn’t take Ed up on the details of his plan, but I did drag myself out to the Asian Supermarket and the Honest Weight Food Co-op. Honestly, I think it helped.

Now what follows is either dangerously honest or incredibly self-indulgent. But it chronicles how I think about food and the conflicts that arise from even the most seemingly benign decisions at a grocery store.

I can’t buy veggies at the Asian Supermarket. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Primarily it has to do with packaging. So much of the produce comes on Styrofoam trays and is wrapped in plastic wrap. I find the waste to be appalling, so I try to pretend the entire section of the store doesn’t exist.

Ed’s suggestion of duck legs sounds delicious, but sadly they are not on the diet for the next few months. Unagi, is also a tasty treat, but there are several reasons to avoid eel entirely or at the very least to eat it just one time per year.

But I did need some specialty items at the Asian market, so I saddled up.

Tofu. No, it’s not exactly a specialty item, but I only buy it at Asian markets because it’s a fraction of the price there in comparison to our local supermarkets. I buy the American stuff that’s made from non-GMO soybeans. I know soy has its detractors, but we eat it in moderation. Which is not to say that I’m thrilled the package sizes have been decreasing over the past several months. Man, that makes me angry.

Peanut oil. I was just about out of my three-liter jug of Lion & Globe peanut oil. This stuff is special because it hasn’t been filtered to the point of tasting like nothing. It actually retains a lot of its peanut flavor. Despite my love for the stuff, I hesitate. Surely this oil is chemically extracted. If it were expeller pressed, they would put that on the label and charge three times as much for the product. Then I glanced at its clear hard plastic bottle, and silently acknowledged that it was probably made with BPA. But we use so little of it at a time, and it’s so delicious, that I put it in my basket.

Sweet potato noodles. I’m going through a little Korean phase right now. And Mrs. Fussy will be away for a few days, which makes the temperature around the household perfect for some perversion of chapchae. There are a ton of sweet potato starch noodles, many of them with Korean writing on the bag. But most of them come from mainland China. I wanted Korean noodles that were actually Korean. After manhandling several bags and carefully reading their labels, I finally found one.

Buying a replacement half-gallon jug of kimchi was a no-brainer. Then it was off to the Honest Weight Food Co-op, where things can get interesting.

Vegetables. There are many great items there one can buy without issue, especially if you miss them at a local farmers market. Like organic red beets (choose the smaller ones if you like them sweet). I also picked up a five-pound bag of organic carrots and a couple of organic green peppers. Mind you, all these things are important to buy organic.

Sweet potatoes. You know, Shop Rite had organic sweet potatoes recently. And I only started buying organic sweet potatoes because of the web video promoted by the HWFC. Except the co-op didn’t stock any. They only had these monstrous conventionally-produced things that are surely fibrous and overgrown. What the hell?

Chocolate. On the plus side I found a treasure trove of fair-trade dark chocolate bars. I bought four different brands, and you can look forward to a cross comparison of these in the future. This was very exciting, because in my new obsession with healthful eating, dark chocolate is one of my greatest pleasures. However, I’ve decided to stop eating chocolate that is produced without regard for the welfare of children who are used to harvest the cocoa. Sadly, that’s most chocolate. Although oddly I’m still okay with using my iPhone and wearing clothes made and manufactured all around the world.

Safflower oil. As if to make up for the mega-bottle of peanut oil, I picked up its polar opposite: Expeller-pressed safflower oil in a glass bottle. I was actually struggling between that and the organic canola oil, and couldn’t justify the extra few bucks to support those canola growers who are resisting Monsanto’s canola monoculture.

And if all this seems nuts, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. You should hear what goes through my head in Walmart.

But the upside was that it was indeed very restorative. My pantry is restocked. I’m ready to make the next batch of mushroom barley soup. I might make my own granola. Milk liqueur is in my sights. The next batch of chicken stock can begin. And let’s not forget the chocolate tasting. Thanks Ed.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    February 29, 2012 11:19 am

    Who has the kind of time to shop for only virtuous food?

  2. February 29, 2012 11:37 am

    its hard being a good omnivore- some days the investigative work that goes into buying virtuously with thrift while maximizing appetitive pleasure is fun itself. But those days are rare.

    What the capital district needs is a huge central square type place where all of these markets are right next to one another. To dreams!

  3. Tonia permalink
    February 29, 2012 11:54 am

    Sounds like my brain. It is stressful being a ‘virtuous’ shopper, especially on a budget.

  4. February 29, 2012 12:18 pm

    Is there a reliable list of chocolate producers using chocolate from questionable sources? What about companies that use questionable sources but also sell single origin chocolate that comes from a good source? Would you buy the ethically okay bar or avoid the brand all together? Do you know if your bonbons from LA Burdick are made with ‘good/fair’ chocolate? Do you know any sources of ethically sourced chocolate that provide high quality couvertures? I have always used Barry Callebaut – and without spending too much time reading all the copy on their web site, it seems as if they are against child labor – to a degree – and support action to regulate/legitimize it, however they continue to source beans from western Africa (more on BC if youre interested:http://www.barry-callebaut.com/5659). Hope Im not coming off douchey here, these are all genuine questions.

  5. February 29, 2012 12:18 pm

    Why is buying a half gallon jug of kimchi at Asian Supermarket a no-brainer? A good Korean market is going to have at least 4-5 varieties for you to choose from. Last time I checked Asian Supermarket had only one and it wasn’t nearly as good as the kimchi sold by (the old) Kim’s.

  6. February 29, 2012 12:38 pm

    Sounds like waaay to much angst to do something that should be fun. You’re too hard on yourself.

  7. February 29, 2012 2:51 pm

    I’d lose my mind if I shopped like you. A bit of concern for what you buy is good, but grocery shopping should be fun for foodies like us, not nerve-wracking.

    Also, I don’t know what you’re buying at the Asian Supermarket, but all of the produce I’ve gotten there was out in big bins, loose, like in most supermarket produce sections — boxes of fruit, bins of bok choi and bean sprouts to scoop up and bag, etc.

  8. Kerosena permalink
    February 29, 2012 7:19 pm

    Being Daniel Berman sounds exhausting.

  9. March 1, 2012 12:59 pm

    Glad you are concerned with finding ethically sourced chocolate, Daniel.

    @Greg K – here at least is a list of “good” chocolate for you http://slavefreechocolate.org/directory-chocolate/ – many of these can be found in regular supermarkets (under “organic & natural”). The major brands are all a bit suspect as they do not have procedures in place that mean they can trace back to every supplier. Consumer pressure does make a difference, however: look on the homepage of the same website and you’ll see that Hersheys has recently promised to do more to address this issue, after a concerted campaign by conscious-consumer groups.

    To further add to your grocery-shopping woes, Daniel, note that most soaps, shampoos etc contain cocoa derivatives – and the cosmetics industry is for the most part doing nothing to address child-slavery in their product chain…

    @Awesomedude – I’m dreaming with you!

    • March 1, 2012 3:18 pm

      Similarly to what youre saying about herseys, It seems as though callebaut has taken measures to improve the problems in w Africa or at least promised to do so. There’s something to be said about trying to improve the situation rather than exasperate it by pulling out completely , causing a huge drop in demand. But who knows how improved it will ever be. BC’s blurb seems a bit too much like “well that’s just the way it is” rather than “we genuinely want to improve the QOL amongst these farmers/workers

      Thank you for the list. I’m not familiar with quite a few of those brands, and the ones I do know seem to be just supermarket bar types, rather than high quality couvertures for use in professional kitchens.

  10. March 1, 2012 5:52 pm

    This chocolatier, http://www.lifebychocolates.com/index.html, is relatively local (Greenville, NY) – maybe you could come to some arrangement with them re those couvertures?

    • March 1, 2012 9:06 pm

      I will get ahold of them to see what chocolate they are using! are you familiar with their operation at all?

      • March 2, 2012 9:08 pm

        Not really – I know a vendor who buys from them, that’s all. But they sound like good people.

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